Snapping into Place

Tuesday, 3. May 2016 22:51 | Author:


Millennials and Xers need read no further, unless you want to be entertained by Boomer ineptitude.





“Why don’t you try Snapchat?” a friend said to me, “It’s a great way to connect with friends.”

My initial reaction was hesitancy, Snapchat? wasn’t that the thing that kids used for all sorts of unseemly purposes? Snapchat? How can I take on another social media platform when I can’t keep up with tools that I already use? Snapchat?

But then I thought about all the times I’ve encouraged teachers and adminstrators to try something new, and all the times that I tried to help them past their fears and hesitancy, promoting the importance of our participation in the digital revolution if we are to retain our relevance. I’ve stood in front of groups preaching the gospel of safe social media.  What kind of a hypocrite am I if I’m not willing to try something new?

So I downloaded the Snapchat app, created an account, added friends, and almost immediately hit a wall.

For those who have not used Snapchat, it’s basically a photo and video sharing app. Selected friends or groups receive pictures and short video clips. There is a photo editor to customize the photographs, and a chat feature.  Along with this is the ability to create a “story,” a set of pictures and videos that can be seen by all of the followers.  The signature feature of the app is impermance. A receiver views pictures and videos once or twice and then thy are removed from the phone (I know there are ways to save these, but that’s not the spirit of the app), likewise, chats and comments are removed once they have been read.  The clips in the “story” stay there for 24 hours and then disappear.

I found the app terribly confusing.  What do the different screens and controls do?  I couldn’t find things I sent, and more than once I missed something sent to me.  The “one shot and then it’s gone” aspect exacerbated every mistake.  Bigger than this, I had no sense of what this tool was was or how I could use it. I considered asking my daughter (to her utter horror) how to use the platform.  Ultimately, though, I surrendered to the modern Mecca of all professional development, YouTube. I watched a video that explained all the screens and controls, but most of these I’d figured out already through trial and error.  What it didn’t answer was why I should use the platform and what I could do with it.  I became certain that Snapchat was going to be added to the dust pile of social media that wasn’t for me.

But this morning during a ride, it suddenly occurred to me that I could take pictures and videos during the ride and people could see them in order on my story.


Suddenly the whole function became clear to me and this unweildy gadget suddenly became a tool.  My whole approach to learning and using the controls was directed to the things I wanted to do.  My learning curve jumped, and my skill (though not great yet) improved.  Now I’m looking forward to finding new abilities and uses.

So, why do I tell this story? Not to encourage everyone to use Snapchat, and not to illustrate my ineptitude (there are plenty of examples of this on these pages). I think this experience says something about training.  It’s easy to show people how to do things, it’s harder (but more vital) to show them why.  Without vision, a tool is a gadget, and without motivation learning is just so many tricks.

As always I welcome your comments.

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Stepping Away

Wednesday, 9. March 2016 19:43 | Author:

Image result for taking a breakYes, yes, yes…I know it has been a month and a half since I posted here.  Frankly it has been just about as long since I posted on Twitter (probably shouldn’t have said this, everyone probably just assumed I was posting at another time).  I have been a bad media socialite.

I don’t know about you, but I occasionally go into a funk where I just don’t feel like sharing or creating.  Stuff goes on in our non-digital lives, and it feels like too much to contain in words, and certainly too much to share.  Sometimes I just get tired, and the blog and Twitter just feel like two more mouths crying for my time.

The good thing is that I always seem to eventually come out of it.  I get an idea for a blog post (hopefully better than this) and I get excited about writing.  I open my Twitter stream and something invites or provokes me into response, and I enjoy the feeling of connection all over again.  I haven’t lost faith in the value of these venues. I’m just winded, and I can’t swim in the ocean right now.

The bad part of this is that the world of social media is very much a world of the now.  If you aren’t currently posting, you don’t exist in the zeitgeist and memories are very short.  That great article or hilarious post I wrote two months ago has no bearing on today’s readers.  You take a break and you start from scratch building your network of followers again.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, beyond a plea for understanding of my absence.  I know that I can’t be alone in this.  Social media exhaustion is only one side effect of the ‘always on” digital culture.  While the reactionary response is to condemn this world (“you kids, with your iPhones, and your Facesbook, and your digitals”), I am more inclined to see this as the individual self-adjusting to the challenges.  We need “Stepped Away” signs to post in our digital space and the patience and care to accept (and maybe even encourage) these breaks in others.  But, of course, no one will probably read this, since it has been so long since I posted.

As Always, I welcome your comments.


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Predictions vs Trends: The Science of NOT Knowing What’s Coming Next!

Friday, 8. January 2016 23:13 | Author:

Note:  I had the great pleasure to guest on the show Education Talk Radio with Larry Jacobs to discuss this article and other things.  The recording can be found here

To say that the world of education today is complicated would be a radical understatement.  Administrators, classroom teachers, and parents struggle together (and sometimes struggle against one another) through a morass of opportunities, pitfalls, and choices.  Under the banner of “Twenty-first Century Learning” (a title that gets less impressive each year) schools struggle to find ways to effectively integrate digital resources into the classroom and curriculum.  With the purest of intentions schools sail on a sea of murky options, STEM (STEAM, STREAM), Blended Leaning, Flipped Classroom, 1×1, and at every turn there are choices, choices, choices, each with a price tag, a time commitment, and a hoped for outcome.  Standing on a precipice, the educator is pressed to “Choose wisely.”

And to some extent it is a deck that is stacked against us, for there are no correct choices and no right paths.  Most digital tools have a short time of usefulness and then they are quickly tossed aside.  Outcomes of new instruction models (unless they are measured on immediate, limited value, standardized testing) don’t show true effectiveness for years.  In a competitive marketplace it is impossible to select a product or program without being criticized by proponents of the alternative.  The only comfort in making these choices is that to do nothing in a changing environment is equally hazardous.  The future is coming, and it will happen through you or to you.

One way to approach digital choices in school and classroom is to stop listening to (and making) predictions and focusing instead on trends.  Predictions for the future of digital education are based on the definitive information of today and indicate a clear path.  The problem with this is that this path is often inflexible and sometimes wrong.  Trend analysis recognizes areas of focus and develops ongoing and flexible strategy to address these.  An auto manufacturer may predict that there will be flying cars by 2015 and put all resources toward that goal.  While this prediction may come true, other factors might come into play that either surpass this goal or go in another direction.  Perhaps the introduction of another dimension to automotive travel doesn’t increase reliability, dependability, or safety.  On the other hand, a second manufacturer might note that people respond well to greater automation in cars and spend its resources discovering and following this trend.  This manufacturer has a far greater range of actions and a far greater opportunity for success.  Predictions often lead down blind alleys; trend analysis gives full flexibility to recognize and adapt to a changing future

The same too often proves true for schools; a limited prediction blocks the larger trend.  One key trend that is seen in the digital world of education and in general is the move from greater and greater mobility.  From the enormous machines of the dawn of computing to desktop machines, to laptops, to tablets and phones, devices have grown smaller, more powerful, and portable.  This trend has huge ramifications on all aspects of classroom instruction, and immense pitfalls for lack of flexible planning. School A may decide that the FLIM FLAM MICROTABLET is a truly revolutionary device and predict that this device will be the foundation of their program for the next decade.  While this prediction might prove true, it is equally possible that another device may come to surpass it, and the school is locked into a less effective option.  School B may identify the trend of mobile individual computing for students and develop a strategy to consistently find the best option to meet this need.  In trend approaches, no plans are tied to model or brand, but to essential function.

One does not have to look far to find a number of similar trends in education brought about by the digital revolution.  The textbook across the desk has a clear shelf life, as the economic realities of publishing will push textbook companies off paper and into digital products.  Early predictions saw no further than a digital reproduction of a paper book, pictures of pages. However, if we follow the trend of a new textbook, there are opportunities to envision products that transcend the “words and pictures” limitations of paper books to integrate sounds, videos, links, and even adaptable instruction and assessment.  The same could be said about a paper-less environment (less paper, not paperless).  With the growing number of classes with individual devices, the medium of paper for the transmission of data seems a wasteful and impractical choice.  However, many can point to the bold predictions in the early 1990s of a true paperless future were mocked by the ensuing glut of paper use as personal printers quadrupled consumption.  The trend that we will find practical alternatives to paper use allows us the flexibility to do what’s best and even to envision new applications before unseen (and certainly unpredicted).

Similar trends can be observed (and predictions made) in every area of instruction.  It is clear there will be new instruction models and new delivery systems.  It is clear that student work will take new forms to meet the abilities of tools and the needs of the time.  It is clear that social media will play an important role in human interaction inside and outside the classroom.  As educators plan, these trends (as they are today) must be integrated into action.  Predictions for our digital future may be right or wrong in their direction, but trend analysis can always provide direction as we sail over choppy or smooth seas toward the horizon.

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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 24: Love and Joy come to you, and a glad Christmas too!

Thursday, 24. December 2015 16:15 | Author:

On Christmas night all Christians sing

To hear the news the Angels bring
News of great joy, news of great mirth
News of our merciful king's birth

These are the opening lines of the Sussex Carol, another wonderful, seldom-heard traditional Christmas carol, but as I close another year of this exercise I'm not simply pointing out one more great thing that you all should listen to immediately (though you should). I had this playing in my (wireless) headphones the other day and one word stood out from all the rest, mirth. It's not a word we use a lot (in fact, all I can picture when I say mirth is Carol Kane in The Muppet Movie saying, “Yeth?”), but I think it is going to be my Christmas wish for all of us this year.

It is important that the writer combined joy and mirth in the same line to show that they are related but not identical (OK, some may say that he just needed something to rhyme with birth). Mirth is a subset of joy, all mirth is joy, but not all joy is mirth. Mirth is the most childlike and boundless face of joy, completely guileless, completely self contained, and completely without self awareness. I picture a child giggling as the face of mirth, overwhelmed by happiness, maybe not even recognizing the reason why.

In these later years mirth becomes a stranger in our lives. We still have joy, but in its cooler faces. We feel satisfaction, which is the antithesis of mirth because it is completely tied to reasonable rationale. We feel ironic amusement that often borders on gallows humor (Donald Trump). We feel Shadenfreude as we watch our real and imagined enemies encounter obstacles. As I examine the past year, I think the joy I have felt most often has been relief that something worked or some bad thing didn't happen. While all of these have their place, all of them are limited and lack the expansiveness of mirth.

So as we move into Christmas (and if you follow the Christian calendar Christmas season doesn't start until tonight) I hope that we all can be given many moments of mirth. Let us all let go of self-consciousness and feel bloody happy that it's Christmas, that it's Friday, that it's life. If there is a gift of Christmas that we all need and one that could benefit the whole world, it would be the gift of mirth. It's too big to wrap (almost too big to feel) but there is enough of it to go around and fit under everyone's tree and to fill everyone's house.

Merry Christmas…let there be peace.



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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 23: We’ll be good the whole year through, always looking forward to…

Thursday, 24. December 2015 4:56 | Author:

By tradition tomorrow's post is dedicated to my Christmas wish for readers, so this penultimate entry is where I talk about the process (shall I say, the journey?) of writing twenty-two posts (yes, I know there was Black Thursday when I had..and wrote…nothing).

As usual, the posts are best classified by their lack of a coherent theme. Of the twenty two posts, seven can roughly be classified about eduction or technology, several were about Christmas carols, a few were about weird Christmas traditions, others were uncategorizable. If there was a theme it was the oddities of “traditional” Christmas. While I enjoy every part of the Christmas I celebrate, it is the height of arrogance to expect that others have or should celebrate it in the same way. Though I have never sent Christmas greetings with dead birds on them, it isn't wrong that someone else has (and I have seriously searched for a caganer). There is no war on Christmas because Christmas has never been an organized side.

Relative to the other years, this has been the most difficult. Finding new topics on a daily basis gets harder and harder. I think in future years I need to organize around a theme, but I have 341 days to figure out what to do next year.

One of the challenges year round with this setting a tone that works for me and for the readers. I am incapable of writing a classic “tech blog” or “education blog” because though both of these topics are fascinating to me, somehow it never feels enough. On the other hand I don't want this to become overly confessional, and I don't want to talk too much about my experiences unless they illustrate some broader point to me or to others. So if I have gone too much in one direction or another, forgive me in the spirit of Christmas. I do this exercise at this time of the year every year because there is something about these days that brings reality, for good or for bad, into greater focus. In Tracey Thorn's wonderful song “Tinsel and Lights” she has the comment about Christmas time, “Something almost true was in the air.” I feel and try to capture this truth during these twenty-four days, and if it's rough (and it feels pretty rough this year) I hope never to drift into maudlin self-pity.

I am always grateful for the unexplainable, wonderful people who read this blog regularly. Though comments were down this year, probably a combination of topics and the Byzantine security system I've built around commenting (after hearing from a friend about this, I'm lowering the walls), actually more people than usual told me that they read some or all of the posts. If you read one or all, you are a treasure to me.

So wrap up tomorrow, and then we'll see where we go next…



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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 22: A Noiseless, Patient Reader

Tuesday, 22. December 2015 17:45 | Author:

During these few days away (or during any trip), I usually wake up first, and I take my iPad to some common area where I can find coffee and a comfortable spot to read. In this hotel there is a nice lounge where the various guests gather for continental breakfast (which does not resemble the cuisine of any continent I know). this setting provides me (as an inveterate people watcher), with everything I could ask in a morning perch.

Though I enjoy looking at groupings and speculating upon languages and relations, my eye is always drawn to loners like me who are reading books. And I must confess that while I don’t eavesdrop on conversations, I will go out of my way to position myself to see what books these people are reading. It’s the same on airplanes. I’m not one who is comfortable making conversation with strangers, but when someone is reading a book, whether on paper or pad, if I can’t see the title I can’t resist asking what book it is.

What is it about reading that creates a kinship and an intimacy that I wouldn’t feel in any other circumstances? It would seem that reading in a room of conversing strangers would be the most isolating and anti-social position, yet I feel somewhat entitled to know what everyone in my vicinity is reading. To be fair, I am happy to share what I’m reading; in fact, I enjoy being asked. By individually settling down with books, it is as if we almost tacitly join a second community with deeper bonds than small talk.

There are (at least) three reasons why I want to know what people around me are reading. On the most superficial level, i suppose, I want to hear about potential books for my future. Even though I have a glut of books clogging my Goodreads “To Read” list and my ipad, I am always searching the horizon for that white whale of the next amazing book. Though I read many good books, I seldom come upon an AMAZING book that carries me from start to finish in giddy ecstasy along the way, books like Corelli,s Mandolin, The Night Circus, or Midnight’s Children. Though I have seldom found a great book in this casual sharing, my quest continues.

At a more fundamental level, I look at a person’s book to discover what kind of person is in the room with me. For a reader, there is no greater identifier than what someone else is reading, and exchanging titles is basically equivalent to dogs sniffing each others’ behinds (I must be clear here, I never sniff anyone’s behind). It will surprise no one to know that I’m pretty judgey about what I hear, lots of schlock out there. Usually I am disappointed when I hear about a new romance or anything Grisham, but occasionally I hear a few gems. I get excited when I hear someone reading a book that I have read and enjoyed. Likewise, I’m sensitive about the books I read for much the same reason. Other’s mothers encouraged them to wear clean underwear in case they get in an accident, my mother reminded me to have a good book with me.

Finally there is a sense of connection with the broader community of readers. I keep thinking of Whitman’s poem:

A NOISELESS, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.


And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

Reaching out to find what is being read in my vicinity is a way of launching filament that invisibly connects me to a world of reading. I may never (and most likely won’t) speak to these readers, but they become part of my universe of understanding.

Anyway, I saw a woman reading this morning, and after clandestinely getting a cup of coffee in eyesight of her book, I discovered that she was reading the Bible. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed, not because it isn’t good that she was reading the Bible, but that connecting part of me would have preferred to see a novel, an AMAZING one.

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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 21: “And the mountains in reply, Echo back their joyous strains”

Monday, 21. December 2015 18:49 | Author:

Sometimes when I see new tech gadgets, I have an instant, visceral reaction to them of either blind avarice, or repulsion. However, when I first saw one of the new hot products this year, I have to admit that I didn't know how I felt about it. Rather, I really wanted it, and I didn't know how I felt about the fact that I wanted it.

The product is the Amazon Echo. Before I start, I need to say that the device is out of stock and will not be available until after Christmas. I also need to say that unlike too many other things, the Echo did not fall into my ”One-click Compusion,” so everything I'm saying is based on reading the description and reviews and watching videos.

The device is a black cylinder, about 10” tall, that sits near you on in any room of the house (to respond to my earlier blog about cables, the device is wireless, except for power). The Echo is voice activated by the “wake word” ALEXA (I wondered what would happen in a house with a person named Alexa, but apparently you can change the wake word to AMAZON…if you have children, Alexa and Amazon, do not buy this product). It costs $179 (once again, it is not available at the time of this writing) and there is no I subscription fee.

Echo responds to voice commands to perform a variety of tasks. It can respond to questions, much like SIRI or similar apps, about weather, traffic, or trivia. It can play music, news, or audiobooks from your Amazon library (always a financial tie-in) or other sources. It can control appliances throughout your house, and you can use it to restock staple products (again through Amazon).

My first suspicion was that it probably wouldn't work well. Voice interpretation is still pretty iffy on many devices. I have found myself screaming at SIRI when she repeatedly (and purposely, I believe) mishears my commands. However all reviews and demonsations indicate that Echo works very well almost out of the box and that it performs its target tasks admirably well.

Of course the more fundamental concern is about robots taking over our lives. Rather than turning on music, from my stereo, or running upstairs to readjust the thermostat (cheating here, I can already do this from my phone), or looking up information, or talking to others, I'm speaking to a device, a device that has intimidating controls over much of my world. It is not longer a long jump to see the headlines about people killed by their Echos when the device kept turning up the heat or misheard peacemaker as pacemaker. “Open, the podbay door, HAL, I mean ALEXA”

On the other hand, and I realize that I'm going to be tagged a total nerd here, THIS IS WHAT THEY HAD IN STAR TREK! There are few of us who saw this ability who didn't dream of a day when we could simply ask and get needed information, entertainment, food (I realize the Echo doesn't do food). Sometimes I would love to simply say, “ALEXA, music please, Leonard Cohen,” or “ALEXA, want to use the jacuzzi in an hour, turn on the heater.” (I don't have a jacuzzi now, so I suppose I have to get one of those first).

And $179 isn't all that much…and it's right here.

I'd better stop now, or I'll push that one-click button

As always, I welcome your comments.



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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 20, Just the Right Notes

Monday, 21. December 2015 3:41 | Author:

Long day traveling up the coast for a couple of days in Cambria, but I wanted to share a joy of Christmas that was originally intended for children that I didn't discover until I was an adult. “Brother Heinrich's Christmas” is a short story with orchestra, choir, and narration composed by John Rutter. There are several recordings available, one cane be found on YouTube here.

The story is about a young monk who works in the monetary wine press with his companion, the donkey Sigismund (played by a bassoon). Henirich, who is also the choir director, is tasked with writing a new carol for the Christmas celebration. After lengthy challenges, he composes the melody of In Dulcie Jubilo with the help of an angel choir and Sigismund.

It's a wonderful Christmas fable, illustrating the importance of everyone, with beautiful music. Play it for your children, or listen to it yourself.

As always, I welcome your comments.



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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 19: Go, Tell it on the Internet!

Saturday, 19. December 2015 22:52 | Author:

Having spoken yesterday about technical trends for the future, I can return to Christmas for the remaining few days of this endeavor.

A problem with blogging is that unless you take down earlier posts (which in most cases I would find to be highly suspect) you will have things out there that looking backward make you cringe. I have several entries where I completely support a position that I later reject (because, you know, I keep growing, man, I'm a work in progress, God isn't finished with me yet…ugh). Other times the world goes in a very different direction from what I foresaw, and my brilliant statements are mocked by reality.

This year, however, I've been hit with another variation of post judging, when the world comes so around to my point of view that my original statement seems trivial or passé. This is certainly the case with my comments on the song “Baby, It's Cold Outside.” Last year I wrote a post discussing the predatory aspects of this song and the far less innocent undertones of the happy exchange. I had these concerns for a few years before, and I swear, they came entirely from my own reaction to the song (I should have written these down and sent them to myself by mail so that I could have a clear record of when I first thought this, and more importantly that no one else…that I heard…was saying it).

This year this realization has practically become a meme. I have seen mention of it on various blogs and many podcasts. Likewise most times I have heard the song named or played, someone has brought up the less savory interpretation. In fact, it is no longer treated as a new realization but as something that everyone knows (I heard one podcaster refer to it as “A Very Cosby Christmas,” which I know is terrible, but it made me laugh). I even heard someone mention the title of the song and then say that half the Internet would respond by saying it's a date rape song while the other half would defend it against this overreaction. So my point is now so common that there is common reaction to it.

I don't know which is worse, to have circumstances prove something I have written as wrong, or to have everyone jump on board and make something I have written look trivial (actually I very much know which is worse!). So let me state once for all. My reflections on this song came from my listening to it and thinking about it and nowhere else. And though I won't claim that the entire world read my blog and came around to this position, I can't prove that that didn't happen.

As always I welcome your comments.



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Twenty-four Days of Blogging, Day 18: “I got no strings on me”

Saturday, 19. December 2015 5:38 | Author:

I was thinking today about where personal digital technology would go in 2016. For the last few years I've done a presentation called “10 Trends That Will Change Education and the World,” and I'm preparing to do a version of this on an education talk show next month. While reviewing my original trends, I started to wonder if any new trends were emerging. While I see progress and room for growth in many areas, one area I find interesting is the development of technology to cut the number of cables in our life.

In the past to play music I needed to plug my phone into my car, my stereo system, or my headphones. Now Bluetooth applications are removing the need for these wires. My car automatically pairs and plays the music from my phone. Wireless Bluetooth speakers (both with wired and battery power) are becoming more and more availability for lower prices. In order to have speakers in my living room and family room, I ran speaker wire across the house which was always pulling free of the staples and getting in the way. Now multi-room wireless speakers will provide the same effect without the messy wires. I enjoy my wireless headphones, particularly when I'm riding or working, as I don't get tangled in a headphone cable. Bluetooth headphones have existed for some time, but stereo sets are now available for less than most wired headphones. My phone doesn't have to attach to anything for me to enjoy its resources.

When I present, I usually have to connect my iPad to the projector through an adaptor. However, Apple TV and other wireless projectors are freeing me from being tethered to the machine. Frankly, I still prefer a wireless connection as more dependable when I'm working in front of a large audience, but I'm certain this will improve to where I can cut this cord as well.

Which leads to power. Even though battery life continues to inch forward, all portable devices still need regular connection to power. However, as I discussed in a post earlier this year, I'm very intrigued by the new charging stations that are built into the table at Starbucks and other venues. With an adapter (and more and more phones don't even need this) one needs only to rest a phone on a charging plate, and charging begins. Though this is not truly wireless, as the furniture has to be wired, it once again breaks a cable restriction.

So, though I can't predict many of the changes coming our way, I am reasonably certain that they will come with fewer strings attached.

As always, I welcome your comments.



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